A just turned thirty crisis? A pining for my early 20s, long haired, travelling former self? What will be my next move?
I had lived in South Korea since August 2010 (with a year out and two separate trips travelling in South and Central America) and had loved every minute. But, as I sat alone at my desk, I pondered my next move. Working in Korea’s hagwon (language academy) system had started to take its toll. Hence the two separate trips abroad. It seems I can only hack it for 2 years and then I need a change of scenery. Don’t get me wrong, I love Korea and the people. It’s a place I call home as I’ve spent most of my working life in the Land of the Morning Calm. Things certainly weren’t so as I attempted to teach a class of 4 year olds the nuances and subtleties of the Queen’s English. So, in short, I wanted a new challenge.
I have always enjoyed cycling and had purchased a bike in the summer of ’16. This rekindled my affair with the two wheeled machine of wonder. My favourite aspect of being on the bike is the freedom that comes with it. Heading off down a quiet road, wondering what’s over that next hill, who will I meet, while all the time hoping to avoid a painstaking puncture! However, cycling around the concrete jungle of Korea was becoming stressful and monotonous. I craved the peace and relaxed nature of biking along a lane on a pristine summer’s day, taking in the countryside and clean air. I started to toy with the idea of a long bike ride but I lacked a plan. It was time to get thinking!
Biking is a great form of exercise for me as it has relatively little impact on my joints. Since shortly after birth I have suffered with septic arthritis. The first sign of it was a swollen infected finger at 11 days old. I was given penicillin but unknown to everyone the infection spread to my hip and knee. It turned out to be a serious infection caused by the staphylococcal bacterium and I was diagnosed with a condition called septic arthritis. I stayed in hospital for three and a half weeks and was on antibiotics for a further four weeks. This period of my life was obviously very difficult for my Mum and Dad. I can only imagine what they were going though at such a challenging time. Even today I can sense my mum getting upset when I ask her about it. No parent wants to see their child go through so much pain at such a vulnerable time. Their care and support over the years has been immense and I love them dearly for that.
The infection caused long-term damage but the effects only gradually became apparent. So it didn’t stop me from doing the things I loved in childhood. I was a keen sportsman who loved football, cricket and, believe it or not, cross country running. However, my damaged right leg wasn’t growing as fast as the other one. So there was a gap in their lengths which became more noticeable as I got older and I walked with a limp. This discrepancy gradually increased to 3cm and so I had to I wore orthopaedic shoes with raised platforms on the right foot. I wasn’t too happy wearing these shoes as I felt they made me look like a member of the platform wearing Spice Girls. My school mates were quick to give me a nickname – Pegleg – which soon became shortened to Peggers or Peggs. It was only friendly banter and not malicious. Some of my friends still call me Peggers today.
Things were more difficult when I became a teenager and my growth spurt came knocking. This was a crucial time and so we found the best surgeon in the business, Miss Deborah Eastwood, a brilliant orthopaedic surgeon based in London. She is an inspirational person, who dedicates her life to helping young people overcome their challenges. At 14 years of age, I had an epiphyseodesis. This complicated sounding procedure meant the removal of a growth point from the left knee. She hoped this would slow the longer leg down and balance everything up.
However, my damaged hip was becoming even more of a problem as I continued to grow. To try to counter this, Miss Eastwood decided to perform a femoral osteotomy in a bid to ease some of the pain and to improve the movement of the joint. Most of the procedure was successful but the cartilage over part of the femoral head was too damaged for the final part to be completed. I felt very happy after the operation although I was on crutches for 6 months afterwards.
When I went off to university at 18 there was still a gap of about four centimetres in the length of my legs and I had restricted movement. For example, I couldn’t do my shoe laces up and struggled to put my socks on. I still do. After university I went into the world of teaching, which led me to Korea. I was advised I was too young to have a hip replacement so I just got on with it and tried to lead a normal a life as possible. I’m still quite young so I will get the most out of the hip I can. How about a bike ride to Rome? That’ll definitely get it working to the max!
So, as I sat alone at my desk waiting for my class to start in Korea, I decided I wanted to give something back. It was time to face up to my hip and take it on. I’d never met anybody who had septic arthritis or anybody who had arthritis when they were young. I feel in a unique position because of this. However, I know there are people like me out there and I wanted to help them. I’ve been lucky as I’ve led a “normal” life and not let anything stop me from doing the things I love. It can be frustrating at times and having to deal with the daily pain can be tiresome. Despite this, I’m lucky that things aren’t worse so I remain upbeat. I started to research arthritis charities and read lots of inspiring stories. In turn, I wanted to inspire young people and raise awareness of arthritis in young people by taking on a difficult challenge. I hope people will see that this debilitating disease cannot stop you from living life to the full. By raising some money, we can help individuals and their families improve the quality of life and live more comfortably.
So a tentative idea was in place. I needed to the ball rolling and create a trimmed down plan that I could actually work with. I returned from Korea for Christmas with the family. This is where it all began!